Clever, concise, and compelling.


From the Smartest Kid in the Universe series , Vol. 1

A seventh grade slacker experiences a synaptic growth spurt.

Grabenstein returns with another fact-filled, puzzle-packed, multigenre romp. This new series stars Jake McQuade, a freckled White 12-year-old who’d rather play video games and schmooze than exert himself in the classroom or on the basketball court. Everything changes when Jake accidentally chows down a scientist’s jar of jelly beans imbued with Ingestible Knowledge, sending his IQ sky-high. Accompanied by brainiac buddies Grace Garcia, a Cuban American girl with a secret connection to Riverview Middle School, and Kojo Shelton, a Black science geek and aspiring detective, Jake soon finds himself navigating previously unimaginable scenarios. Sometimes the stakes are local: say, the Riverview Pirates’ Quiz Bowl competitions. Sometimes they’re a bit larger, like working with the Pentagon on military intelligence or cracking an interstate robbery on behalf of the FBI. All the while, malevolent school principal Patricia Malvolio is scheming with her uncle, real estate tycoon Heath Huxley, to bulldoze the school and erect a condominium, a project funded by a pirate treasure. Can Jake and his pals save their school—or is his brain blast bound to burn out? As always, Grabenstein’s cast is more defined by caricature than characterization, and the collective is far stronger than any of its constituent parts. High-paced humor offsets nerdy digressions while light commentary on public education and academic effort lends a veneer of thoughtfulness.

Clever, concise, and compelling. (puzzles) (Humor. 9-13)

Pub Date: Dec. 1, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-525-64778-2

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: Aug. 25, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2020

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Is this the end? Well, no…the series will stagger on through at least one more scheduled sequel.


From the Captain Underpants series , Vol. 9

Sure signs that the creative wells are running dry at last, the Captain’s ninth, overstuffed outing both recycles a villain (see Book 4) and offers trendy anti-bullying wish fulfillment.

Not that there aren’t pranks and envelope-pushing quips aplenty. To start, in an alternate ending to the previous episode, Principal Krupp ends up in prison (“…a lot like being a student at Jerome Horwitz Elementary School, except that the prison had better funding”). There, he witnesses fellow inmate Tippy Tinkletrousers (aka Professor Poopypants) escape in a giant Robo-Suit (later reduced to time-traveling trousers). The villain sets off after George and Harold, who are in juvie (“not much different from our old school…except that they have library books here.”). Cut to five years previous, in a prequel to the whole series. George and Harold link up in kindergarten to reduce a quartet of vicious bullies to giggling insanity with a relentless series of pranks involving shaving cream, spiders, effeminate spoof text messages and friendship bracelets. Pilkey tucks both topical jokes and bathroom humor into the cartoon art, and ups the narrative’s lexical ante with terms like “pharmaceuticals” and “theatrical flair.” Unfortunately, the bullies’ sad fates force Krupp to resign, so he’s not around to save the Earth from being destroyed later on by Talking Toilets and other invaders…

Is this the end? Well, no…the series will stagger on through at least one more scheduled sequel. (Fantasy. 10-12)

Pub Date: Aug. 28, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-545-17534-0

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Scholastic

Review Posted Online: June 20, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2012

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A sly, side-splitting hoot from start to finish.


The dreary prospect of spending a lifetime making caskets instead of wonderful inventions prompts a young orphan to snatch up his little sister and flee. Where? To the circus, of course.

Fortunately or otherwise, John and 6-year-old Page join up with Boz—sometime human cannonball for the seedy Wandering Wayfarers and a “vertically challenged” trickster with a fantastic gift for sowing chaos. Alas, the budding engineer barely has time to settle in to begin work on an experimental circus wagon powered by chicken poop and dubbed (with questionable forethought) the Autopsy. The hot pursuit of malign and indomitable Great-Aunt Beauregard, the Coggins’ only living relative, forces all three to leave the troupe for further flights and misadventures. Teele spins her adventure around a sturdy protagonist whose love for his little sister is matched only by his fierce desire for something better in life for them both and tucks in an outstanding supporting cast featuring several notably strong-minded, independent women (Page, whose glare “would kill spiders dead,” not least among them). Better yet, in Boz she has created a scene-stealing force of nature, a free spirit who’s never happier than when he’s stirring up mischief. A climactic clutch culminating in a magnificently destructive display of fireworks leaves the Coggin sibs well-positioned for bright futures. (Illustrations not seen.)

A sly, side-splitting hoot from start to finish. (Adventure. 11-13)

Pub Date: April 12, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-06-234510-3

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Walden Pond Press/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2016

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